NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Mirror Driving: How the Cookie Cutter Crumbles, Jeff Gordon’s Place in History & Big Apple Blues

Welcome to Mirror Driving. Every week, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news and rumors. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we’ve said!

This Week’s Participants:
Beth Lunkenheimer (Tuesdays/Running Your Mouth & Various/Frontstretch Truck Series Reporter)
Mike Neff (Wednesdays/Power Rankings & Wednesdays/Full Throttle)
Jeff Meyer (Wednesdays/Top 10 & Thursdays/Voices From The Heartland)
Bryan Davis Keith (Thursdays/Picks ‘N’ Pans & Sundays/Nationwide Series Breakdown)
Amy Henderson (Fridays/Holding A Pretty Wheel)

Jeff Gordon notched his 82nd career victory in the Samsung 500 last weekend. Where will he end up on the all-time wins list, and what will Gordon be remembered for years down the line?

Jeff: Well gee, let me look in my crystal ball! While you wait, here are the next lotto numbers….
Bryan: Depends on how long he chooses to stay behind the wheel. If he stays another five years, I could see him getting to No. 2 on the wins list without a problem. He’ll definitely be remembered among the all-time greats – no questions asked.
Mike: He’ll most likely end up third – until Jimmie Johnson passes him – and he’ll be remembered for being one of the top-five drivers in the history of the sport.
Amy: I think he’ll hang ’em up with 90-95 wins. He will certainly be remembered as one of the greatest drivers ever and also for winning so much while still so young.
Beth: I agree with Bryan. It all hinges on just how long he stays behind the wheel.
Bryan: He’s definitely going to get at least one more title, so he’ll be second on that list. The way he’s running so far this year, he could have another 30 top-10 season.
Amy: I think he’ll get a fifth which, ironically, would be the seventh… darn Chase.
Mike: But when the chips are down, it’s all about the wins, and Johnson wins when it counts. And Amy, he wouldn’t have seven. Everyone would have raced differently if it weren’t for the Chase. He might have six, but that would be it. Assuming he gets a fifth, of course. I don’t know that he’ll get one more title. As long as Chad Knaus is on Jimmie’s pit box, he’ll win the championship every year.
Amy: But Johnson came in a few years older than Gordon. I’d like to think he’ll get the numbers – because he’s that good – but he may not.

BOWLES: JEFF GORDON NASCAR’S ELDER STATESMAN?

Mike: As long as Chad is on the box, he will.
Jeff: Lets not forget that Jimmie’s are all Chase Cups. There is a difference.
Mike: Yes, there is. And that is why, unless they dramatically change the schedule, he’ll keep winning it every year: Because they have those tracks all figured out.
Amy: I wasn’t talking about JJ’s Cups so much as his wins. 41 in seven years is pretty phenomenal. He can match Gordon if he races long enough.
Mike: Yes, he can. And he’ll end up with the second most wins all-time unless Chad hangs it up.
Bryan: I would agree in most ways, but the way Gordon is running I think he can keep Johnson in striking distance. He does that, and Talladega then tells the tale. If Johnson has issues at ‘Dega with the way Gordon is running, the No. 24 could snake it this year.
Mike: Well, wrapping this up, I’ll just say that Gordon is one of the best drivers in the history of the sport, and he’ll be third on the all-time win list until JJ knocks him off.
Bryan: Gordon’s got at least one more title and a spot up there with the sport’s greatest locked up. How many wins he gets to is all up to how long he chooses to stay behind the wheel. Getting to second in all-time wins could happen.
Amy: Yeah, Gordon’s one of the best ever, and I think he’ll pass Yarborough, Waltrip and Allison – but Pearson could be a stretch. And as much as I can’t stand the guy, Kyle Busch could end his career with numbers like Gordon’s as well.

Racing at Texas was hardly wild, wild west fare. Is there anything that can be done to make the racing better on the 1.5-mile tracks, or are race fans stuck with strung-out fields for most of the season?

Bryan: Yeah, there are several things that can be done: 1) Go back to the old cars. 2) Go Indy-style and throw cautions every 15 laps to close up the field.
Beth: Texas has never put on that great of a Cup race. The leader typically checks out, and from there it’s just that follow-the-leader until one catches the other game.
Jeff: Just keep using Goodyears and it’ll continue to be that way.
Amy: I don’t think it’s going to change until NASCAR wakes up and realigns the schedule to tracks where the racing is the No. 1 concern – and I don’t see that happening with the Big BF at the helm. That said, the old cars weren’t any better here.
Mike: OK, I’m having to couch this by saying that I listened on the radio and those guys can make paint drying exciting, but it sure as hell sounded exciting when Gordon, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart we going at it for the lead. And we are having on track passes for the lead – which we did not have with the old car.
Bryan: The finish this weekend wasn’t that bad – I enjoyed the final 30 or so laps.
Mike: I thought that the action on the track was exciting, and the drivers were actually having to drive the cars.
Beth: The best racing was on the restarts when we were actually seeing three- and sometimes four-wide.
Mike: Most races have no action until the end. But most NFL games have no action until the end; the same goes for MLB. Welcome to pro sports.
Jeff: Pro entertainment.
Amy: I agree, Mike, and I think TV is partly to blame here. There was racing in the pack, as there is every week, but as always, they couldn’t take the camera off the leader to show it.
Bryan: That was more true than ever in the Nationwide race, Amy. They literally showed maybe 12 cars all race long. ESPN’s coverage on Saturday was probably the worst it’s done since it came back.
Beth: I didn’t think FOX was half bad this weekend. At times I forgot who was leading because they were watching everything but the leader.
Bryan: I don’t think that is as much the problem as it is for TV to start showing side-by-side when it does happen.
Amy: I saw the best racing of the weekend on Saturday… of course, I was at Hickory.
Mike: That does help…
Amy: The Super Truck race was awesome There we go, let’s race Hickory again! NASCAR needs to remember what its product is and market that product by going to tracks that highlight it. What they need to do is schedule races at tracks designed for stock cars… not Indy cars.
Mike: We all know that’s not going to happen, Amy. So we might as well not beat that dead horse anymore.
Bryan: The racing at Texas is no worse than at Lowe’s. In person, it’s always a good show – you just never see it on TV.
Amy: Well sometimes, the best race is between 30th and 31st, no matter how much TV WISHES it was for the lead.
Mike: They should have the TV producers listen to the radio coverage and show what they’re talking about.
Bryan: They don’t have gophers, Mike; nothing to learn from that.
Mike: No, but they sure do talk about the close racing wherever it is actually occurring.
Bryan: Shame we can’t somehow give the camera guys standing orders to cut to shots of side-by-side whenever it occurs.
Amy: We need a rat on the camera, Bryan. Speaking of, I fell asleep during pre-race. BIG mistake, because I dreamed about a souvenir hauler with shelves of stuffed Diggers.
Bryan: Diggers: that’s almost a bad word at this point.
Mike: Well, the TV guys can only show what the camera guys are giving them. So if the camera dudes aren’t finding the close racing, the producers can’t show it.
Amy: That’s the reason the cameras caught Carlton Fisk waving it fair in the ’76 series: A big ass rat sitting on the camera. The guy had orders to follow the ball, but the rat changed his mind.
Bryan: I’d actually prefer a rat to a gopher. I could pretend it was Brian France.
Mike: I’d prefer racecars to animated BS.
Jeff: The next track walk I do, I’m gonna sneak a dead squirrel in the track and photo it.
Amy: Anyways, back on topic; at the very least, NASCAR needs to make the networks show the racing. At best… they need to rewrite the schedule.
Bryan: The 1.5-mile tracks will never provide the action that a short track will. TV, however, can alleviate a lot of that.
Mike: The racing with the new car is better than with the old car, whether people want to admit it or not – and as the tire continues to improve and the teams continue to figure out the car, the racing will only continue to get better.

NASCAR is planning to move the Sprint Cup awards banquet to Las Vegas this year. Is the move the right thing to do, and if not, where should the banquet be held?

Bryan: Who cares?
Jeff: I say why not?!… and who cares.
Amy: I hate the idea, personally.
Beth: Well, it’s certainly an improvement over New York.
Mike: I don’t have a problem with it in Vegas. It’s better than New York.
Beth: Why not move it around? I mean, does New York really care about NASCAR?
Amy: I love New York in December, with the Christmas lights, but how can you even tell if there are Christmas lights in Vegas?
Jeff: Vegas has the lights all the time!
Bryan: I don’t watch the banquet and I could care less about it. Have it in Vegas, have it New York, have it in Bismarck as far as I’m concerned.
Mike: How about taking it to a different arena every year and letting the fans come?
Beth: I like that idea, Mike.
Jeff: Makes too much sense.
Amy: I disagree. The banquet isn’t for the fans, and the drivers deserve a night without a million autograph requests. They should be doing those at the races.
Jeff: It’s not about the fans, remember!
Mike: I know, Jeff, and that’s a shame because it would be the best time for the fans to get to enjoy the stars of the sport. I honestly think most of the drivers would be happy if they didn’t have the damn thing.
Amy: If I spent a grueling season winning a championship, I want to enjoy the time with my family and teammates – not a lot of hangers-on.
Bryan: Remember Kyle Busch missed out on a Formula 1 test because he had to go to the Nationwide banquet last year?
Amy: Personally, I think they should either go back to Daytona or keep it in Charlotte.
Jeff: Oh, come on! The banquet is nothing more than a glamour thing for them – their Oscars as it were. Move it to Hollywood!
Beth: It’s one night… let them celebrate it with their fans.
Bryan: Send them their damned checks in the mail and give them the night off. Watching that banquet is about as much fun as watching the pre-race shows.
Mike: Have them tape the acceptance speeches wherever they want to, for that matter.
Amy: I like watching it. I loved seeing Cale surprise Jimmie last year.
Mike: Yeah, I love listening to the corporate shills who have no clue about the sport get up there and try and make it sound like they give a crap.
Amy: You want a real fun time? Unplug the teleprompter and watch ’em squirm.
Mike: You want a real fun time? Tell them they can’t thank their sponsors. Any sponsor mentions mean a donation to the Victory Junction Gang Camp. Then, you’ll have a fun banquet – guys telling stories about locking their hauler drivers in port-a-johns.
Amy: Why shouldn’t they thank their sponsors? Without them, they’re racing late models back home.
Jeff: And we’d all be watching better racing, Amy. And having extra time on a Monday night if they were still racing mods.
Mike: Amy, they already thank them every time they’re on camera all year.
Amy: I’d love to hear better speeches, but they should thank people.
Bryan: Well the way it is right now, we’re watching a four-hour soundbite routine with racecar drivers in a tux. Some things just don’t work.
Mike: How about you have one night where it’s about the team and not about who signs the checks. They can have the banquet anywhere, but I’m glad they’re moving it out of New York because that city didn’t give a crap.
Beth: Let ‘em move the banquet. Who cares where they hold it?
Amy: I still hate the idea. Most of these drivers and fans don’t remember a time when it wasn’t in NYC. To them, it’s tradition.
Bryan: Move it anywhere – just stop televising it so we don’t hear as much about it as we do now. It’s a painful part of the offseason.
Jeff: Maybe they moved it now that the Staten Island track thing went sour. NASCAR’s idea of revenge?
Mike: Hopefully it’ll put the talk of a track up there to bed….

Reports popped up this week (since denied… for now) that NASCAR needs a replacement for Camping World just months after the company signed a seven-year agreement to sponsor the Truck Series. What would be the ideal sponsor to replace Camping World, and do you believe the series will not return in 2010 if the title sponsor pulls out?

Amy: Without a title sponsor, I think the series will go away, and that would be a shame.
Beth: Sadly without a title sponsor, we’ll lose the series. But I think the series is too marketable not to find a sponsor – even in this economy.
Jeff: The Series will run no matter what.
Amy: It’s the best racing in the upper levels. I said a year ago that Camping World wouldn’t last. Not many people buying RVs these days.
Beth: Not many people are buying much of anything other than essentials right now, Amy.
Bryan: Why not apply for a bailout?
Amy: I think Lowe’s should drop the track sponsorship and put Kobalt on the series. It’d be way more bang for the buck.
Beth: The problem that still remains with the Truck Series is the fact that it remains hidden on SPEED Channel.
Amy: True. NASCAR needs to demand better from FOX.
Bryan: I agree, Beth, but where do you move it to? FOX and ESPN can’t do a good job with the broadcasts they have. They’d do the trucks the same justice they do for the Nationwide Series… none.
Beth: At the very least, the races would reach a broader audience.
Amy: Right. At least everyone gets FOX and ESPN, so that’s a step in the right direction. Heck, even TNT would be better.
Beth: My point exactly. At this point, even bad coverage would allow the trucks more exposure than what they currently get hidden on a channel not everyone chooses to pay for.
Amy: It’s too good a series to just disappear. I hope something can be done to save it.
Bryan: Well, stepping on the toes of prospective sponsors isn’t going to help things.
Beth: You’ve got that right, Bryan.
Jeff: I’m telling you, make it the Frontstretch Truck Series. I mean, the price of the series has to be coming down.
Bryan: I still say we sponsor Brent Raymer later this year. But the ideal sponsor for the Truck Series is a willing one. If there are people out there who want to bring money in, let them. Period.
Amy: I agree with Bryan.
Beth: Camping World is an ideal sponsor for the Truck Series, and I’m not yet ready to buy the fact that they want out just four races into the season.
Amy: Alright, one quick personal note before we go: Godspeed, Don H. The racing world is losing a class act of a fan.

Mirror Predictions 2009

Welcome to our third consecutive year of Mirror Predictions! Each week, our experts take the end of this column to tell us who the winner of each Cup race will be. But as we all know, predicting the future is difficult if not completely impossible… so how do you know which writer you can trust when you put your own reputation (or money) on the line?

That’s why we came up with our Mirror Predictions Chart. The scoring for this year is simple:

Prediction Scoring
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd

Through seven races (and the Shootout) this season, here’s how our experts have fared so far:

Writer Points Behind Predictions (Starts) Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Kurt Smith 7 7 0 2 4
Bryan Davis Keith 6 -1 7 1 3 4
Mike Neff 5 -2 5 0 2 2
Amy Henderson 5 -2 8 1 1 4
Tom Bowles 3 -4 3 0 1 1
Vito Pugliese 4 -3 6 0 0 4
Jeff Meyer 2 -5 4 0 0 2
Matt Taliaferro -3 -10 1 0 0 0

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Bryan Davis Keith

I can’t believe you guys (except for Mike) are ragging about the racing this weekend. You must not have watched the same race I attended. There were on-track passes for the lead, and second through fourth were constantly battling back and forth. From the get-go there were multiple grooves available in the corners. What more do you want?

Bryan Davis Keith

And I cant believe you are still thinking Jeff Gordon was a lock to win the 2004 championship under the old points system. Jimmie Johnson was running away with it during the spring until he started “experimenting” during the summer and lost a lot of points. That let Gordon and others catch up to him. The only title Jeff was a lock for under the old points system was 2007, when he would have won the championship at Texas with three races to go. Yawn!

Bryan Davis Keith

Kevin you are right on the money about 2004 I’ve be saying the same thing since 2004. The thing that diminishes my view of Gordon as one of the best drivers ever is the fact that he has never driven for a bad team. Every driver that has ever drove for Hendrick has won a race and 2 drivers beside Jeff have won championships. Also being one of the best drivers ever means you should not get whipped by someone with the same car most of the time. Everyone knows he is good and alot of drivers could not of delivered what he did with the same car.

Bryan Davis Keith

Here’s an idea for the banquet. Hold it in a large venue, have it sectioned off fans from teams/drivers (security where needed). Charge fans an admission, which all goes to charity of champion’s choice. Afterward, if drivers choose (not demanded or contracted), have an autograph session with a small fee for the driver’s own charity. If the driver chooses not to attend that, it’s his prerogative (sic?).

As for Gordon on the all time list, 2nd. Temporarily. Johnson will catch him, Kyle Busch might. If Smoke started stock cars earlier than he did, he’d be up there too.

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